“Of all the books written on the decade of the 1960s about the Civil Rights movement, Patrick Smith has turned out the most vivid and most violent and most accurate reflection of the time.” —The Clarion Ledger (Mississippi)
“An outstanding novel, as true a picture of Southern racial relationtions to be found.” —The Mississippi Press
In Midvale, an imaginary small town in southern Mississippi in the 1960s, life moves at a pace set by its long, hot summers and its dirt-poor economy.
The African Americans know their place and pretty much keep to it in “the quarters,” a dilapidated section of town. The whites, mostly merchants and farmers, know their place too, living quiet, family-oriented lives. A reasonably friendly atmosphere generally prevails in the segregated society.
Then Washington begins passing new laws, and a current of unrest ripples through town as a few blacks, for the first time, register to vote. Angry segregationist Sam Hankins demands that Sheriff Ike Thornton do something to stop it. Sheriff Thornton has his own ideas of what should be done to improve race relations; rehabilitation of “the quarters” with indoor bathrooms, new roofs and paint, and paved streets. But his plan triggers violence between those who would keep the old ways and those willing to make a beginning toward the new.
Then the outside world arrives in Midvale in the form of two young, white Civil Rights workers determined to start a “freedom school.” The resulting rioting and bloodshed carry the story to a climax not unlike the 1960s’ newspaper headlines.
The Beginning was written in the 1960s at the height of the Civil Rights movement, and its publication in 1967 brought varied reactions. As a whole, the novel was favorably received, but not without its share of controversy. There were those who agreed that the novel was an accurate reflection of the times, and there were those who objected to the way certain levels of society – both black and white – were portrayed. It would have been impossible back then to write a novel about race relations in the South without taking shots from someone. Much has changed in the South and the nation since those turbulent times, particularly at this point in the United States’ history.
Perhaps enough time has now passed so that readers can view The Beginning as what it was intended to be: a look into a changing South where even issues of relations between races were not simply black and white but as complex as the motivations within the human heart. This novel has been out of print for several years.
Customers have repeatedly asked for The Beginning and have paid premium prices of over $100 for used copies on eBay and other such sites. Now we are happy to make it available in paperback for only $16.95.
Watch this excerpt from the book. You’ll get the “sense of place” Patrick Smith establishes for the book.
Joseph Campbell once said that what makes great literature is the timeless message in its theme. Patrick Smith is a classic writer when it comes to mastering the art of story telling. The universality of his small southern town’s struggle to find a common ground with the challenges the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s resonates as much today as we enter the new millenium as it did when he wrote it. Not everyone is going to like what the story has to say about our home of the free and the brave. Ike Thorton is a man with the tenacity and sommon sense to recognize that what once was considered the norm in society is no longer acceptable; the segregration of blacks and whites has to be stopped according to the new laws being passed in Washington D.C.. Midvale must act quickly to assure their black folk that the whites in Midvale don’t need any outside help to integrate their town. Ike knows that if you force people into something, someone’s going to react. The complexities of integration prompt events and circumstances that demand an end to tolerance of human inequities. The heart of Patrick Smith’s stories lie within the hearts of his characters. For they capture the spirit of life which offers hope and the belief that each day is a new beginning. This book should be on the reading list of high schools across the country.
One of the best books I’ve ever read on the early Civil Rights Movement. It portrayed a small Southern town with mostly very good people who were willing to let things progress as they should. However, the extremists (on mostly the White side) were determined to make it difficult. Justice prevailed. Characters were very well defined & it was refreshing to read a book about this subject which was realistic & not sensationalist.
This is one of the best books that I have read lately, it is hard to put down. It reminded me of when I was growing up at that time. Great author. I have read several of his books in the past and have just started another one.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement. Patrick Smith humanizes the characters and tells it like it was.
I love Patrick Smiths writings. He lived close to our home and well aware of his penchant for a factual story. This story had to be told whether fact or fiction.
Excellent from beginning to end.
The realistic, true Mississippi comes to life within the pages of this book. Patrick Smith has penned an outstanding novel.
Man’s inhumanity to man is an important part of this story, but it is not the whole story. There are shocking brutality and violence of many sorts, but more than all that, there is a sensitive overall view of whites and Negroes that takes into account almost every facet of life in a south Mississippi town.
~Jackson Daily News
Of all the books written in the decade of the 1960s about the Civil Rights movement, the changing times and the enigma of Mississippi, Patrick Smith has turned out the most vivid and most violent and most accurate reflection of the times.
The author has unique way with words they are leaves of feeling reaped from the seed of the heart.